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Book review: The Problem of Political Authority

Earlier in the year, I had a wonderful conversation on the doorstep with a lady who, like so many members of the public, despairs at the conduct of all politicians. I asked if she had followed my own actions and could give me a personal example. The truth was, as I expected and perfectly reasonably, that her views were formed by press reporting of the political battle amongst generals far above this foot-soldier’s level. The pattern is quite common. Increasing […]

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Book review: Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations

Karl Popper’s 582-page Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge seemed a daunting read. It need not have done: the essays within are written in plain English and a lively style. The central theme of the book is that our knowledge, our aims and our standards develop through trial and error: that is, by making conjectures and seeking their refutation. I was glad I read the book knowing Popper had turned from the so-called “scientific socialism” of Marxism. In […]

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Book review: Popper, All Life is Problem Solving

Karl Popper’s All Life is Problem Solving is a wonderful collection of his speeches and shorter writings in two parts: Questions of natural science and Thoughts on history and politics. I first discovered Popper through The Open Society and its Enemies, a vehement defence of democracy against totalitarianism. Many of the themes he explored there are naturally to be found in this much slimmer book. Two particular ideas are relevant today: the logic and evolution of scientific theory and his […]

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What Is Money? – Frederic Bastiat – Mises Daily

Anyone could do wonders if he could contrive to overcome all resisting influences, and if all mankind would consent to become soft wax in his fingers; but men are resolved not to be soft wax; they listen, applaud, or reject and — go on as before. via What Is Money? – Frederic Bastiat – Mises Daily.

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Robust Political Economy and Realistic Idealism « Pileus

Via Robust Political Economy and Realistic Idealism « Pileus: What criterion should we use to evaluate political theories and the institutions they advocate? In my book Robust Political Economy, I argue that it is the criterion of ‘robustness’. Institutions that meet this criterion are those best placed to cope with fundamental constraints that arise from the human condition. The most important constraints are those of limited rationality (the Hayekian ‘knowledge problem’) and the recognition that human beings respond, at least to […]

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The Rise and Decline of the State

Brought forward. I just had cause to share this with a constituent in relation to the Kafkaesque nightmare they face. David Cameron has said that the era of big government has run its course. The foreword to our manifesto sets out the rotten state of Britain (see also Butler) and the change we offer: from big government to big society. What then is the history of big government? How did it come about? Has it run its course? Why has […]

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The altruistic individual in society

In preparation for an article to be published in the Autumn, I just reread The Open Society and Its Enemies – Volume 1: The Spell of Plato. The book traces mankind’s opposition to change and the consequent rise of the myth of destiny, technically, historicism: the belief that history unfolds according to laws which can be discovered. Popper argues that the strain of civilisation causes us to seek to return to a supposed harmonious state of nature, a heroic age […]

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Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty

The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard is a difficult book to which few could subscribe in full. It is difficult partly because it is concerned only with ‘that subset of the natural law that develops the concept of natural rights, and that deals with the proper sphere of “politics,” i.e., with violence and non-violence as modes of interpersonal relations.’ The book is not concerned with the ethics of personal morality, simply ‘a political philosophy of liberty’. In confining itself […]

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Bastiat – The State

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This post originally appeared at The Cobden Centre. In the course of things, I had cause to quote Bastiat, a French classical liberal theorist, political economist, and member of the French assembly: “The state is the great fiction by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.” This prompted me to dig out the original essay. As the UK’s national debt doubles and after a period within which QE was used, creating space in the market for […]

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Thought for the day: politics, debt and public choice

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A joke doing the rounds by email at the moment1: While walking down the street one day a Member of Parliament is tragically hit by a truck and dies. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St Peter at the entrance. ‘Welcome to heaven,’ says St Peter, ‘Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we’re not sure what to do with you.’ ‘No […]

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